Diplomat Who Likes Sport
28 June, 2012
Diplomat Who Likes Sport

Exclucive interview with the Ambassador of Hungary to Georgia

Mr. Sandor Szabo arrived in Georgia last autumn, in November. He is a career diplomat who set out to his professional route at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hungary. Before coming to Georgia in the capacity of  the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, he had spent only one day here, in Tbilisi when back in 1979 he was delegated by the Hungarian ambassador in Moscow to the football game Soviet Union

versus Hungary, which took place in our country. During this rather short journey, Mr. Szabo was assisting the Hungarian football team delegation because previously he used to be a professional football player. But what he remembers since then about Georgia is the hotel and the stadium – these were all the memories he managed to take from one-day trip to Georgia. Therefore, when he arrived last November, the country seemed to him brand new. 

 

G.J: You are more or less a new ambassador. Please, introduce yourself to our reader.

S.S: I am a career diplomat who started his career not yesterday...Uunfortunately, it was 38 years ago. It was back in 1974. I have worked in five countries – first of all, in Moscow, the Soviet Union, in the embassy of Hungary. It was a very nice period because I was the Olympic attache of  Hungary at the XX Olympic Games in Moscow. I was appointed to the position of an ambassador and served my term between 1990 and 1996 in Bulgaria. Then I was an ambassador in Albania in 2003-2007. Then a very interesting period set in my life between 2008 and 2010, when I was the foreign policy advisor of the Moldavian Prime Minister. It was a very special mission but I liked it very much. Afterwards I came here and I hope I’ll stay here for some years (smiles politely).

G.J: What were the impressions that you received on your arrival in November?

S.S: I was here in 1979 but only for one day. I am very much connected with football, as I used to be a professional football player and I helped the Hungarian delegation with football team during the match between Hungary and Soviet Union that was scheduled to take place in Tbilisi. So, my impressions began in November 2011, as the country was brand new because one day is nothing to speak about. I had read a lot about this country, that it is very nice, the nature is fantastic. You have the sea, high mountains. We, Hungarians appreciate it very much, because we don’t have the sea and we don’t have high mountains either. Our highest mountain is 1000 meters, and you have much higher ones. I have visited not only Tbilisi but the countryside as well. So far I have been only to the western Georgia, not its eastern part.  But I will do my best and visit this part too. You have very nice culture and historical heritage – I would like to point out monasteries. It means that my first impressions were justified - I like the country very much. The ambassador is accredited not only to the capital, but to the entire country. My goal is to know the whole country.

G.J: As a diplomat, do you find working here interesting?

S.S: It is a very interesting period indeed. You have elections every year – this year comes parliamentary elections, then presidential and afterwards – local, municipal elections. I can say that this is politically challenging period. I don’t like working in a country, which is very boring. I appreciate that I came here exactly during such an exciting time.

G.J:What can you say about the Georgian cuisine?

S.S: Oh, cuisine is my favorite topic! Because Hungarians are so fond of eating! We like to pamper our stomach very much! My impression is that Georgians are the same.So, we are relatives from this point of view (cordial laughter). During these 7 months, I have been to some of your restaurants; of course not only in Tbilisi but in the countryside as well. I enjoyed it, because you like to eat a lot of meat, greens and spices and we do the same. So, for me the choice is simple, because your dishes are to our taste. My principle is to go to different restaurants as you can always have something new in that way. Most of all, I like the ways you cook fish and of course, Khachapuri. Fish with garlic sauce is marvelous – Hungarians like garlic in general. As for sweets, I like them but it is not so healthy and therefore, I eat them very seldom. Healthy food is important for me.

G.J: Which is your favorite sphere of Georgian culture?

S.S: First of all, the religion – your heritage – the monasteries – I like them very much.

G.J: What about the favorite artists?

S.S: The national ensemble that arrived in Budapest last year. The program was called Flying Georgians (It must be either Erisioni troupe or Sukhishvilebi). It was my introduction to Georgia in general and to the Georgian culture. I watched them again in Batumi, Ajara. These young girls and boys are fantastic. Hungarians like dancing very much too. But Georgian dance is a high class.

G.J: Can you describe your ordinary day?

S.S: Of course. Fortunately, the diplomatic life is very intensive and vibrant here. We have a lot of events, conferences, seminars, exhibitions, and so on. Almost every week, I receive two delegations. Sometimes I myself organize some events. Recently, we held one to celebrate the 20th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic ties between Georgia and Hungary. But most of the time I have to spend at the embassy. But we have other obligations, meetings with foreign ambassadors, and it takes time. Generally, The events are organized in the evening. I sometimes return home at 10 o’clock. I start the day by looking through the papers.

G.J: How did you get accustomed to the Georgian lifestyle in general?

S.S: I like the city. I am accredited to Georgia and Armenia too, and I like Tbilisi and Yerevan very much. The people here are very sanguine and this is for me an advantage. The only problem for me in Tbilisi is your traffic. One cannot feel quite safe here. Generally, I drive my car myself except the official meetings and therefore, I can feel the hazards well. I am very careful as the drivers here drive rather dangerously. I drive whenever I can at my leisure time in the city as well as in the countryside.

G.J: Apart from driving, what is your favorite pastime?

S.S: Football. When I have free time, I am training goalkeepers. I was a goalkeeper-coach in Budapest and here I do the same. In every country where I worked I have been involved in the local football sphere. Here inTbilisi I sometimes help to train the reserve teams of DynamoTbilisi and Gagra. I have the UEFA license for coaching goal-keepers and when I came here, I was searching and I found some contacts with these clubs. Now, whenever I have time, I go there; if it were possible, I would go there every week and every day, but unfortunately, it is impossible. Football is very much about practice, so I have to show them; the young goal-keepers have to practice; I show them what to do and how to do it.

Of course, I watch the games as well: whenever Dynamo plays inTbilisi, I am at their stadium. Sometimes I go to the countryside to watch them.This is part of my life, I cannot live without it. After two weeks I am missing it; as it is now, because they have the summer holidays and we’ll start only from the next week.

G.J: It’s like a drug for you, but a healthy drug…

S.S: Yes, I would say so.

G.J: Now, it must be your time – the Europe Cup is on.

S.S: Yes. Unfortunately, Georgia and Hungary are not among the competitors, this is the problem.

G.J: Maybe your national football also has some crisis like ours?

S.S: Yes, it started long ago. Last time, the Hungarian National Team was in the world championship in 1986.

G.J: What do you think hampers our national teams?

S.S:It is the question of infrastructure.We havea very limited number of stadiums and courts for trainings.If you go to the western European countries, you will see that 6-8 stadiums as minimum are there. The best players go abroad. But they - Hungarian and Georgian footballers, do not play in the best teams; they play in the medium teams.

G.J: Most of them play well abroad; however, they don’t play well here, when they are  together; why?

S.S: That is the good point! You are an expert, I would say (laughs). It is the problem of the coach.The coach must make them unified. Now, Temur Ketsbaia is heading the national team and I hope that he will be successful. He was a nice football player. Besides, I know him personally and I like him.

G.J: Now, a little bit about the formal side. What do you think of Georgian political culture.

S.S: I have not been here for long, but I can tell you that every country has its own controversies like Hungary and Georgia – positive and negatives sides, which is similar for every state. Of course, this year, because of upcoming parliamentary elections, the tension among the political parties is higher than before. If I may say a few critical words about it, my impression is that much more importance should be given to the presentation of programs, goals, aims; something like this: If I have the power, I’ll do  this and that. Unfortunately, we see very limited number of programs. It is my impression that much more attantion is paid to the personalities than to the programs. Their confrontation is not via programs, but via each other.

G.J: What can you say about the media?

S.S: It is the problem in this country that I cannot read local papers, but your paper is an exception thanks God and thank to you. I can’t understand the TV programs either. I speak English, German, Russian and Bulgarian too, but not Georgian… However, the media is very open, that’s what I see.

G.J: Maybe one day you’ll learn Georgian too as you seem to be keen on learning languages…

S.S:No, Georgian is a very complicated language. I only know some words that I hear at the football pitch.

G.J: Central European University is very popular here, which receives a lot of Georgians. Tell us a few words about it.

S.S: We have sent a lot of Georgians during the recent years to CEU and we are urging Georgians to have more candidacies because there are very nice and beneficial universities in Hungary. Some Georgian alumni students have very high posts. A lot more will probably take high positions.

G.J: Have you by any chance heard about the event organized by Georgian Journal at the end of the year of 2011 that identified the “Ambassador of the Year”?

S.S: Was there a competition? Who voted? Who won? What were the criteria? I have no idea about it. I am very interested who will be the winner this year? We are a small country and we have limited chances.

Still we wish Hungary success!

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